Amy Sullivan delivers a pretty good article titled Mitt Romney's Evangelical Problem. Her point is that Romney will have a rough time, at best, gaining enough Evangelical support to win the GOP primary, which would place the general election far out of reach.
Her reporting is, as I say, "pretty good." What irritates me is the semantic erosion of the previously-useful word "Evangelical." The writer never defines it, and (wrongly) assumes her readers know what it means. (This, in a day when journalists still use "evangelical" as a synonym for both "evangelist" and "evangelistic.")
But to be honest, anymore -- I'm not even sure what it means! And I am one! Or I was, until the word's meaning shifted away from me.
For instance, Ms. Sullivan identifies Fuller Theological Seminary as an "evangelical theological seminary." Is it, anymore? It was; but is it?
And consider this:
“Most evangelicals still regard Mormonism as a cult,” Cizik explained. “That will shape, I'd imagine, their reactions to Romney as a candidate for the White House.”So, who is this Cizik person? Richard Cizik is the Vice President for Governmental Affairs with the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). And listen again to what he says: "Most evangelicals still regard Mormonism as a cult."
Now, I won't overload the "still," and assume that Mr. Cizik finds this a backwards belief. Maybe it simply is durative, like "I still believe in America," or "I still love my wife."
But it's hard to get around the "most." I can't think of any way to take it that doesn't end up indicating that Mr. Cizik believes that some real-live, card-carrying, legitimate Evangelicals do not "regard Mormonism as a cult."
So here I am wondering again, "What is an Evangelical?" If you can be an "Evangelical" and, at the same time, embrace a religion that (for starters) adds books to the Bible, affirms the existence of many genuine gods, holds out the possibility of becoming a God, and preaches a "gospel" of faith-plus-works...then what does it mean to be an Evangelical? If God, the Gospel, and the Bible are not sine qua nons, if they are not utterly essential cornerstones, then what is? (Phil Johnson provides a characteristically useful discussion today of the cavernous nature of the distinctions between Mormonism and Christianity in Peddling Mormonism as mainstream Christianity.)
But if I'm not an Evangelical, then what am I? If I say "Reformed," then folks will assume rightly about my theology and soteriology and a host of other things, but probably wrongly about aspects of my ecclesiology and eschatology. If I say "Fundamentalist," nobody can be counted on to know what that means, either -- its historical meaning (one who affirms the fundamental doctrines of the Bible) would be accurate, but they might assume things about my taste in clothes and entertainment that have nothing to do with me.
I suppose it's wisest to stick with "Biblical Christian," and just explain further to anyone who wants to know more.